DISCLAIMER: I do not own the characters. They are the property of DC comics and the WB network. I'm just borrowing them for a short period of time.
MUSIC DISCLAIMER: Song lyrics don't belong to me either; no profit gained or infringement intended.
WARNING: This story deals with the subject of sexual violence.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
"I'm sorry, Oracle. You want me to go... Rather," the next words were heavily painted with mocking incredulity, "you want me to 'pop in' where?"
<"Is your receiver malfunctioning, Huntress? Your transmissions are coming in fine, but, if you're missing some of my broadcasts, perhaps we need to check out your comm set.">
Helena blew an irritated stream of air through her nose as she landed on the roof of the city Municipal Building.
Either the cyber-genius was so wrapped up in some fascinating data feed that she'd missed her partner's sarcasm, or she was simply ignoring the younger woman's protest. Or, the young crime-fighter acknowledged, Barbara was just giving as good as she'd gotten. Her voice had sounded a little distracted, but sometimes it was just hard to tell.
The dark-haired woman decided to be a little more clear.
"I heard you, Oracle. I'm just having a little trouble understanding why you want me to 'pop in' to the city morgue." The young woman's voice was laden with aggrieved disbelief.
There. Barbara shouldn't have any trouble understanding that.
Of all people, the redhead knew how much her younger partner hated that particular spot; not just for the general squidge factor but also for the memories it brought back.
There was no trace of distraction in the sympathetic response. The throaty voice sent a shiver down Helena's spine.
<"I'm sorry, Huntress, but I picked up a report from New Gotham General about a suspicious death of undetermined origin. Notes on the chart suggest that there could be a meta-human element involved.">
Helena heard the sound of keys clicking rapidly.
<"Since you were already in the downtown area, it should only take a few minutes to...">
The brunette detected the briefest of hesitations as Barbara apparently re-considered the wisdom of repeating the exact phrasing of her initial request.
<"...to stop in and procure a sample for me to analyze.">
'Procure'? Only Ora... Barbara would use the word 'procure' in a real conversa --
Whoa -- Hold the phone. A sample? What kind of sample? Man, sometimes this job just wasn't that much fun.
"Uh, what kind of sample, Oracle?"
<"Nothing too awful, Huntress.">
Was that laughter in the redhead's voice? Sheesh.
Helena rolled her eyes even as she lifted the grate of a ventilation shaft and started into the building.
<"The usual. Hair, skin, nails...">
The throaty voice was getting that distracted tone, like Barbara's big brain was taking control of her common sense again. Helena was familiar with that tone. Too familiar. She mentally braced herself for whatever came next.
<"Actually, fluid samples would be helpful, too.">
Uh huh. Thought so.
Helena snorted softly as she peered through a vent leading into the cold storage room of the morgue.
<"If it wouldn't be too much trouble, that is,"> the redhead added, a little belatedly in the younger woman's opinion.
Helena's shiver, as she landed soundlessly in the still room, had nothing to do with the temperature. She revised her earlier thought.
Man, sometimes this job just sucked.
"At least tell me that you know which locker the body is in," she growled.
<"Well, I haven't been able to access that information yet, Huntress.">
Swell. Just freakin' swell. She was definitely going to have to renegotiate her job terms...
Thirty-five minutes later, the lithe figure landed silently on the balcony of the clock tower, working to tamp down on her dark mood. It wasn't like Red wanted to torture her; she was just doing what she always did: protecting the city, with a special care towards its meta-human populace.
Still, on this night, the Huntress really hadn't needed the confined, stealthy assignment she'd just completed. She needed to be running free, sailing on the rooftops, working off the furious energy which possessed her. Some serious ass-kicking -- in the name of justice, naturally -- would have been best; but, really, anything... physical.
Standing at the very edge of the roof, the brunette extended her arms and let her head fall back. The cool night breeze blew through her, carrying with it the complex scents of the city. The full moon and a few stars were visible through the clouds which perennially blanketed New Gotham. Swaying in the wind, seeing only sky, Helena wanted to lose herself as a creature of the night, to forget that sweet voice in her ear and the urges rearing up in her, to let go of her perch and simply... fly.
Blue eyes flickered gold before a warm and welcoming voice grounded her, pulling the dark woman from her reverie, coaxing her into the clock tower.
"Are you going to come inside, Hel?"
The brunette blew out a long, steady breath, felt her eyes revert to normal. Only then did she step through the balcony doors.
"Still don't know how you do that, Barbara."
Helena tossed a large Ziploc containing numerous double-bagged vials in the direction of the older woman as she shrugged out of her duster. A slender hand snagged the package deftly.
"I just know when you're out there, Helena. I guess I just -- feel you."
Green eyes twinkled fondly, and the brunette swallowed thickly.
The redhead glanced down at the baggie.
"That was quick."
Helena barked out a laugh.
"Shit, Barbara. It's not like I'm gonna stop for a bite to eat or take in a movie while I'm hauling," she gestured towards the samples, "that around. I mean... just... eeew."
The smile on those red, red lips was gentle; the husky voice even more so.
"I know, Sweetie. And I am sorry. But, it is important to stay on top of these sorts of incidents."
Raising a hand to silence the older woman, the brunette nodded her understanding.
The redhead continued, nevertheless.
"But, don't think that I don't appreciate it, Helena. I do."
A dark brow raised playfully as an evil grin crept over gamine features.
"Ya wanna thank me, Red?"
The two women had been playing this game far too long for Barbara to fall into that trap so easily. The redhead looked over her half-glasses, batting her eyes, before a slow smile crossed her face.
Voice low, face a picture of confused innocence, she inquired, "And, whatever could I do to thank you properly, Helena, for such diligence, such continuing heroism in the face of cold storage lockers?"
The older woman's tone shot directly to the brunette's core. Still, she played it straight.
"Just tell me that you don't need me to go right back out, Babs. I have got to get a shower, get this smell off me."
Her hypersensitive sense of smell had been registering outraged protests since entering the morgue. Hell, since entering the ventilation shaft of the freakin' building.
As the redhead's short burst of laughter faded, she continued, her voice a low purr.
"And, you could lend a hand in the process, y'know."
Dark brows waggled as the young woman suggestively fluttered a hand down her shirt buttons, pausing at the waistband of skin tight leather pants.
There. Right on schedule.
The blush coloring Barbara's face was just too sexy for words.
Still, the older woman didn't back down.
"Hmm, Hel. If you're having trouble disrobing," Emerald eyes twinkled, watching the younger woman wrestle with a tightly laced boot, "I'd certainly like to be of assistance."
Catching the movement of Barbara's chair, blue eyes flickered up to follow the redhead's deliberate approach. The barely audible curses at every bootlace ever made abruptly ceased.
"Yes. I believe I can be of definite assistance here."
Green eyes raked over the younger woman appraisingly, and Helena fought a shiver. Unsuccessfully.
"Although you have been dressing and undressing yourself for years, I'm certainly more than willing to be of... service in your time of need."
Whoa. The way Barbara had said that last part made breathing a little difficult. Trying not to pant, the brunette waited to see what the other woman had in mind.
Helena blinked at the scissors being extended in a slender hand, ignored the teensy-weensy feeling of disappointment. Just because she'd stopped hoping didn't mean she'd stopped wanting, after all.
Over two years had elapsed since Helena had thrown in the towel on her attempt to maintain some sort of distance from the redhead. The decision had come after the young woman had grasped the simple fact that she'd never be able to keep her life separated from the other woman because, well, hell, Barbara was her life. Finally accepting things as they were, the young woman focused her energies on... coping.
Conquering the second bootlace, the brunette dropped her footwear to the floor with a thump.
"Fuh-nee, Barbara. You're a regular laugh riot, aren't you?"
A soft smile removed any trace of harshness from the words.
Play-swiping for the scissors, the younger woman added, "S'pose I could just as well cut everything off."
She pinned the redhead with a petulant stare.
"You do realize that I'll never get the stink out of these clothes, don't you? Probably gonna have to burn them or something and you know how much I like these pants..."
Still grumbling, aware of the redhead's laughter and some reply about dry cleaning, Helena made her way out of the room, leaving a trail of clothing in her wake. For some reason, a cold shower was sounding pretty good.
At the sound of the shower coming on, Barbara grudgingly dragged her gaze from the hallway and tried to focus on the specimens in front of her. In less than half a minute, the redhead admitted to herself that the samples of dead tissue simply could not hold a candle to the glimpses of tan flesh she'd watched disappearing down the hall.
The cyber crime fighter sighed, straightened slightly, and removed her glasses, placing them carefully on her keyboard. Obviously, she would need a minute to collect herself after that little display.
My, Helena certainly had been in fine form -- Barbara swallowed -- this evening.
The older woman was by no means immune to her protege's charms, nor was she oblivious to the brunette's... interest in her, an interest which seemed to have peaked several years ago. Barbara had -- did -- flirt with the idea. However, flirting with the idea -- and, occasionally, flirting playfully with the younger woman -- was all that the older woman allowed herself.
Hmmm. That and appreciating. Definitely appreciating.
If the younger woman cared to engage in playful flirting and teasing... or a strip tease -- the redhead swallowed again, wondering if the climate control in the tower was operating normally... Well, who was she to look a gift horse in the mouth?
After all, it wasn't as if she'd had -- or had taken -- much opportunity to "appreciate" or flirt with anyone else these days. The payoff truly was not worth the effort.
The older woman replayed the image of that deceptively delicate hand tracing down the younger woman's own body; the sound of throaty, teasing words; the brief image of long legs as Helena shucked her pants before disappearing into the bathroom.
Well, these thoughts would certainly add some fuel to her dreams tonight. As would the sensory memory of the energy which had been rolling off the other woman.
Fifteen minutes earlier, Barbara had sensed the younger woman's arrival on the balcony, glanced out, and then had to choke back a gasp. Even from a distance, the raw sensualism radiating from the younger woman had been unmistakable. Wind blowing through her hair, eyes blazing, mouth slightly open -- probably to draw in the night scents better, the redhead realized: the brunette had looked utterly wild and untamable.
Sighing, the redhead reminded herself that she could make better use of her energies now by processing the samples that Helena had delivered. Replacing her glasses, she turned her attention to the specimens.
Half an hour later, the older woman removed a test tube from the centrifuge, absently humming along with the words emanating from the shower.
So dig a little deeper, cause you still don't get it yet
See me lickin' my lips, need a primitive fix
And I'll make, I'll make you love me
I am extraordinary, if you'd ever get to know me
I am extraordinary, I am just your ordinary
Average every day sane psycho...
"Supergoddess..." Barbara half-sung under her breath as she stared at the data plot spewing from the Delphi.
This was absolutely fascinating, albeit difficult to comprehend. Perhaps if she cross-checked the mitochondria...
So absorbed was she that the sound of the elevator opening completely escaped her. The sudden sound of an additional member in her choir did not escape the redhead.
"See me jump through hoops for you; You stand there watching me performing..."
Her head snapped up.
What Dinah's contribution lacked in harmony, it made up for in volume.
She quirked a brow as the teen wound down and smiled sunnily.
"Liz Phair, Barbara? Gee, I thought you were sort of into the oldies. Perry Como? Bee Gees?"
Resisting the urge to snap at the teen, the older woman replied smoothly, "No, I'm more of a Devo girl, Dinah."
Perhaps she was getting too... mature for this guardianship role if her newest young ward was associating her with the Big Band era. Even the Disco era.
Neatly tabling that thought, the redhead rotated her chair and watched the blonde open and close her mouth, perhaps attempting to swallow the Devo reference.
Whip that, the older woman smirked.
"How was drama practice?"
The blonde blushed lightly as she replied, "Well, technically, I'm not practicing. You know, just doing the set, trying to put together suitable wardrobe. Did people really wear that much wool back then?"
The redhead directed a slightly exasperated look at the teen -- Just hold old did she think her guardian was? -- a split-second before Dinah interrupted herself to peer towards the balcony, then towards the kitchen.
"Actually, that reminds me. Is Helena here yet?"
Barbara just had time to open her mouth before the young woman noticed the trail of black leather leading down the hall.
"Oh, yeah, guess so. But, why are her clothes all over the place?"
This time, the older woman decided to forestall a reply until she was quite sure that the teenager had finished speaking.
"She didn't get hurt or anything, did she?"
Worried pale blue eyes locked with green.
The redhead smiled softly. Of course Dinah would worry about Helena. Despite their almost constant bickering and teasing and grumbling, the two younger women honestly seemed quite fond of each other.
"No, Dinah. Helena's fine. Just a run-in with some unpleasant odors. I believe she's considering retiring those items from her wardrobe permanently."
Pale eyes widened speculatively.
"Kewl! You think I could have them? I love those pants, and the leather shirt -- well -- it just has to go with the pants, right?"
Laughing, Barbara responded, "I think you'd best check with Helena about that, Dinah."
She simply did not want to imagine the intensity or duration of the explosion if the younger girl just appropriated the brunette's clothing.
"Why did you want to see her, anyway, Dinah?"
"What? Oh, yeah, the wardrobe for the play. It's kind of neat," she jumped right back into her earlier topic, picking up momentum, "finding period clothing and stuff. I mean, they've actually given me a budget. It's only a hundred dollars, but it sure beats having the cast going through their parents' closets. I thought that maybe Helena could help me, you know, find some groovy second-hand shops and pick out stuff."
Puzzling over the teen's seeming lack of need for oxygen while speaking, the older woman laughed, acknowledging, "Luring Helena out for clothes shopping is a pretty sure thing, Dinah. I'd imagine that she'll be happy to help out."
"Just what am I being volunteered for now?"
The teasing purr drifted from the kitchen an instant before the dark-haired speaker strolled in wearing faded jeans and a v-neck tee shirt, an open bottle of Wild Turkey in one hand.
"And the words 'morgue' and 'corpse' better not be involved this time."
Russet brows wrinkled; how had Helena... When had she...? Well, the younger woman always had moved on little cat feet.
The older woman smiled softly, ostensibly at Dinah's sudden verbal deluge, as she casually observed the two younger women. She hadn't missed the bright flash of... something in the teen's eyes at Helena's appearance.
"Helena, hey! It's nothing bad or anything. And you probably, well, you might like it. I mean, I hope you won't mind because, you see, I've signed up to work on 'Ten Little Indians'..."
How high could those slowly raising dark brows go, the redhead wondered. The brunette definitely had her game face on -- not quite scowling, but decidedly less than hospitable -- but a twinkle in blue eyes was evident to the older woman.
"I'm not acting in it or anything. I'm a grip. You know what a grip is right? So I'm trying to do wardrobe and stuff..."
The brows were lowering now, creasing a little in perplexity. Warmed by Helena's amused puzzlement, Barbara reigned in her newest ward.
"Dinah? Why don't you and Helena grab something to eat? Alfred left a casserole in the refrigerator. You can bring Helena up to speed over some food."
Laughing cheerfully at the now frankly annoyed expression on the brunette's face, Barbara turned back to the computer. The two disappeared into the kitchen, Helena playfully growling, "C'mon, Kid. Let's see what Alfred left for us, then you can start from the beginning..."
It sounded like the brunette probably would not be inflicting bodily injury on the teen in the immediate future. The redhead gratefully re-immersed herself in data, briefly wondering if Dinah would work up the nerve to ask for Helena's discarded clothing.
An hour later, deeply absorbed in the specimens, Barbara detected a shift in the air. Straightening slightly, she looked over one shoulder, grimacing as the tense muscles in her neck popped, to find her younger partner approaching soundlessly, carrying a dinner plate laden with some sort of delectable smelling noodle concoction. The younger woman stepped lightly onto the Delphi platform to set the plate carefully on a relatively empty area of the desk and then positioned herself directly behind the redhead.
What was the brunette up to?
Only after Helena placed her hands lightly on Barbara's shoulders and began to work her thumbs gently against the tight muscles of the older woman's neck did she speak.
"You might have some competition in the planning department, Babs. Kid's got this whole shopping 'strategy' going on for tomorrow. You'd think we were invading Normandy or, at least, getting ready for a big Broadway production."
The redhead practically purred as the younger woman increased the pressure of her massage fractionally. It had been so long -- too long -- since she'd been touched so easily, so naturally.
In the last few years, Helena had seldom touched her -- and never like this -- anywhere that the older woman could feel. As for the last person Barbara had dated; well, he'd been too eager to prove that he could overcome some of the redhead's physical... limitations to bother with these sorts of touches. A pity really, especially since he'd been otherwise wrong as well.
Recalling that she was supposedly taking part in a conversation, Barbara added, "Dinah's really excited about being involved."
"Yeah, that got right by me, Red. What with emotions not being my thing and all."
A gently teasing tone took any sting out of the sarcasm.
"In fact, I haven't even begun to notice how excited you are right now."
Slightly panicked emerald eyes blinked wide as the redhead jerked backward.
Well, yes. Certainly, she'd been enjoying the neck massage and, perhaps, she'd daydreamed just a little about the sensation of those strong, slender hands... But, honestly, she wasn't... she wouldn't...
"Hey, hey. Easy there, Red. You're undoing all of my terrific un-tensing work here."
The gently kneading fingers moved to her shoulders.
"You gotta get better ergonomics or something, Barbara. Maybe one of those little programs that pops open every hour and reminds you to, I dunno, move your head once in a while? This kind of stress is no good."
A sigh breezed through red hair.
"But, for now, tell me what's got you so excited about those samples. Was the guy a meta?"
Oh, of course. That sort of excitement.
Relaxing again under the delicious sensations, the older woman murmured, "No. At least I don't think so, but something was radically off."
"You mean other than him being dead? And looking like he'd be run through one of those gadgets that sucks all of the air out of a plastic bag so you can store your blankets flatter?"
The words were purred softly near Barbara's ear as the brunette began stroking her thumbs down each side of the redhead's spine. The delicate hands pressed firmly on each downward stroke, then feathered against Barbara's shoulder blades and upper back on the upward strokes. It felt divine.
The older woman rolled her head experimentally, sighing when no annoying cracks and pops made themselves evident. Really, she should tell the younger woman that she could stop now; but, the feel of those talented hands was too wonderful. Perhaps, just another minute or so...
"Well, that's just it. There was disruption... Mmmm, that's wonderful, Hel."
The brunette was working a particularly sensitive spot between Barbara's shoulders. The redhead dropped her head forward, allowing gravity to assist in stretching the tight muscles that Helena was kneading.
"Disruption," the older woman continued, frankly amazed that she was managing to hold on to the threads of the conversation, "at the cellular level."
She coughed lightly, attempting to clear the odd hoarseness from her throat. Perhaps some tea would be helpful.
"In every single sample, the basic cellular make-up has been altered. Which led to a painful, messy death."
There was a response of some sort. A single syllable, drawn out over a low purr, the tone low and honey thick.
The redhead had just decided to treat the sound as an all-purpose noise of encouragement -- a monosyllabic, non-verbal "Go on, Barbara. This is really fascinating." -- when slender fingers began to brush up and down her bare arms, raising gooseflesh in their wake.
Other areas of her anatomy, the redhead noted a split-second ahead of a blush, weren't far behind in responding with raised flesh.
Barbara swallowed with some difficulty, cursing herself for not ending the massage earlier, berating herself for wanting -- even now -- the soft touches to continue, fighting her own body's desire to lean back and pull the other woman closer. She was aware of making a soft noise and fleetingly wondered what it had been. The brunette's response, of sorts, vanquished the older woman's concerns about her own vocalizations.
Had that been... a growl?
So soft it had barely been audible, but absolutely, utterly unmistakable.
The word flashed through the redhead's synapses, trailing behind it a wave of fear and anger.
How could she have allowed things to progress this far?
Based on Helena's responses during fights when she was fully in her feral mode, Barbara knew that the younger woman often had difficulty... restraining herself. The dark woman's control had definitely improved over the years, but it was by no means perfect.
That she, herself, had not reined in the situation -- obviously providing whatever encouragement the already key-up woman needed -- was inexcusable.
She would not -- could not -- permit a temporary aberration to strain things between them. It was time to get back to work, to focus.
Steeling herself, Barbara lifted her head even as she gently captured one of those roving hands in hers, giving a gentle squeeze.
Absolutely, positively willing any hoarseness, any tremor, from her voice, the redhead murmured, "Thank you, Hel. That was lovely."
She moved both of her hands to the keyboard and continued, "The cellular disruption reminds me a bit of the pfiesteria samples I analyzed several years ago. We really need to try to identify what could..."
The redhead trailed off, painfully aware of slender hands still hovering over her shoulders, of the younger woman's rapid breathing. The brunette remained still, absolutely immobile, for a few beats, as Barbara wondered where she would find the courage to turn and face her.
Helena spared her that ordeal, exhaling slowly, then hopping onto the desk as she gestured at the plate of food.
"Eat while it's still warm, Babs. You can tell me about the -- Wisteria thing while you eat, can't you?"
Thank heavens. The young woman had come through for her again. The redhead bit back her sigh of relief, laughing instead as she reached for the plate.
"It's 'pfiesteria', Hel. You remember the fish epidemic several years ago?"
Taking the other woman's "Yuk face" as a sign that she recalled the gory details, Barbara continued.
"Of course, this is only reminiscent of the type of cellular damage caused by that bacteria. Perhaps I can hack into CDC and compare these samples with recent disease reports."
The cyber crime fighter lost herself in thought for a moment as she chewed slowly.
"Still, the damage almost seems too consistent across all of the cell samples."
Repositioning her hands at the keyboard -- a trifle shakily, she noted -- the older woman toggled through several screens before gesturing to one.
"If you look at the plot graph, especially cross-checking mitochondrial make-up --"
Dear heavens, was she babbling?
"--with proteinase levels... Well, it's just a hunch, but I think that there's a different type of agent involved."
A dark brow crept up as the younger woman scratched absently at her left wrist.
"Like, maybe, meta-human?"
The redhead picked up her fork again, then stopped mid-motion on the way to the plate. Tapping her lower lip with the tines of the utensil, she responded slowly.
"It's entirely possible. There's still so much that's unknown about the capabilities of metas. There's always the potential for destructive ability."
"Still," she added, "it also could be the result of a new chemical or biotoxin whipped up in a government lab."
The brunette reached out slowly and grasped the hand holding the fork. She guided the utensil down gently to spear another bite, then flashed a grin as she slid from the desk and began to pull on her duster.
"The truth is out there, huh?" Helena teased softly. "Doesn't sound like there's much I can do to help you find it right now, so I'm gonna head out while you play with your samples s'more."
Barbara worked valiantly to finish chewing, to swallow a mouthful of casserole as the dark woman swept out the balcony doors. For some reason, Alfred's superb cooking had quite lost its appeal.
Carefully selecting the biggest, greasiest, most cheese-covered fry from the plate, Helena delicately swiped it through some ketchup and, after a moment's consideration, plowed it through the chili on the side of the plate. She popped the whole wad into her mouth, neatly licking an errant dollop of cheese off her thumb, as she listened to Dinah's description of "the zipper incident".
"I guess everyone's finally starting to forget about it. At least they're not calling me Zipper Girl all the time now."
The blonde paused to slurp a little more frozen cappuccino.
"Thank god," she added, a bit unnecessarily in the brunette's opinion. "It was just, well, really embarrassing, you know?"
The dark woman snorted. Kid didn't know the half of it about embarrassment.
Last night. Now that was embarrassment.
Walking, talking embarrassment that had set up a booth and was selling tickets.
How could she have been so fuckin' stupid?
Helena knew she always got a little... itchier around the full moon. She should have known better than to touch the redhead like that last night.
Hell, she hadn't touched Barbara like that, for that long, since before she'd moved out. Aside from physio, she always made damned sure to keep their contact brief and careful.
But, that neck popping thing had been as loud as firecrackers to her sensitive hearing. No way she could ignore it.
But... but, when she'd felt herself shift -- something in Barbara's tone, the way she'd relaxed bonelessly under the brunette's hands... When the throbbing heat started to consume her and her hands itched for the feel -- if only for a minute -- of the other woman's skin... And, then, when her body had begun to tremble and she was fighting tears 'cuz she wanted so badly...
Why hadn't she just backed off to a nice safe distance?
What the hell had been wrong with her? She'd been about one minute away from...
Well, whatever it was, at the very least, it sure would have added a super-sized heaping helping of awkward to their relationship.
She'd fought it -- herself -- down. Even resisted the nearly overwhelming urge to run and had kept calm, played along with the redhead's nearly panicked efforts to get things back on an even keel. Red had been pretty seriously freaked out, scared.
Taking a sip of her coffee, swallowing past the tightness in her throat, the brunette prodded at that thought again.
But fear? What had frightened Barbara so damned much?
The redhead, clearly, had been enjoying the friendly -- Helena mentally rolled her eyes at that little euphemism -- massage. Her responses to the less-innocent touches had been unmistakable as well.
But, well, it wasn't like she'd given Barbara much choice, the brunette admitted sourly. What the fuck had she been thinking?
She'd just been so caught up in the feel of that soft, soft skin. Breathing in the scent of the older woman's hair -- oranges and ginger. Throbbing in response to that husky voice.
It had been so damned long, and she'd been so freakin' careful. All she'd wanted was to touch the other woman like -- kind of like -- she used to. Face it, she'd just succumbed to the moon and the night wind and her own selfish wants. And, then -- then her goddamned feral side had reared up and crashed the party.
The older woman probably thought she was about to be eaten alive.
Which was, Helena realized with a sickening clench in her stomach, not too far from the truth.
The brunette carefully set her cup down and pushed the plate of fries away. That particular stomach bomb was a really, really bad idea right about now.
Noticing the expectant look through shyly downcast blonde lashes, Helena hunted for something to say. What had the Kid been talking about? Oh, yeah, embarrassment.
"Face it, Kid. High school is hell. Some sort of sick torture inflicted on junior adults who are still trying to come to terms with all the shit going on with their bodies and lives so they can turn into real human beings."
Swirling the coffee in her oversized cup, the young woman added, "Don't know why Barbara wants to swim in that hormone soup every day. I couldn't wait to get out. Couldn't breathe -- felt like I was wearing a goddamned straightjacket every day."
The blonde head bounced up.
"I still don't know why you didn't buy that outfit, Helena. I mean, it would have looked great on you!"
Blue eyes blinked.
The Kid was gonna give her whiplash one day -- all moony and moaning one minute then bouncy and bubbly the next. Sheesh.
Rewinding through the day's shopping, attempting to recall whether they'd browsed through any racks of straightjackets, Helena settled on the outfit that Dinah was most probably referring to.
A dark brow disappeared under shaggy bangs.
"You mean that 60's retro, white leather 'pantsuit' thing, D? Who am I, Eartha Kitt?"
Observing the Kid's puzzled expression, the brunette marshaled a more cogent argument.
" 'Sides, it would sort of, uh, take away that whole 'dark-n-deadly' heroine look that I've got going, don'tcha think?"
Dinah almost bounced in the booth.
"But, that's just it. A new, different look. I mean, the Lone Ranger wore white, didn't he?"
Throwing back her head, the brunette laughed loudly and then stood suddenly. Tossing a few bills on the table and snagging several of the shopping bags from under the table, she finally replied, "It's a brand new century, Kid."
With a wink, she added, "And, besides, it's after Labor Day."
She headed towards the pastry display at the front of the all-purpose college diner-cum-coffee shop, assuming that Dinah would follow after she gathered the remaining bags. By the time the teen joined her, Helena was carefully tucking a chocolate croissant into a pocket and moving out the door.
The teenager shifted her shopping bags nervously as the two young women walked towards the clock tower.
"I was kind of wondering if you'd help me with... I mean, I really appreciate your help with the wardrobe stuff, and I'm sure you've got other things to do, but maybe..."
When the blonde trailed off rather pathetically, Helena resisted the urge to shake the rest of it out of her. She stopped walking and pulled the teen against a storefront, catching pale blue eyes with vibrant cobalt.
"C'mon. Out with it, Ki... Dinah. You can ask me anything."
Well, maybe not "anything". But, considering that the teen was a touch telepath, she probably wouldn't need to ask a lot of the stuff that Helena didn't want her asking anyway.
The brunette shook her head briskly against that confusing mental sidetrack.
Catching the hesitance still present in pale eyes -- Geez, what did the Kid have in mind? -- she added a trifle impatiently, "Honest."
The teenager drew in a breath and gnawed on her lower lip.
"Uhm, okay. It's just, you know, back in Opal, I didn't socialize much..."
The older woman set her jaw, biting back an instinctive wince at the mention of Dinah's former hometown. It hadn't been a happy place for the Kid.
"And, well, all of us who are working on the play are talking about, uhm, maybe going to Rings of Jupiter in a few weeks. You know, kind of a party?"
Helena was beginning to feel seriously lost. What was Dinah so nervous about?
Jupiter was one of those teen clubs, right? Clubbing always sounded like fun to the brunette; well, except for the "no alcohol" thing going on at that particular spot. But, what the hell, it wasn't like she was being asked to endure the place, right?
Deep blue eyes blinked, then narrowed suspiciously.
As Dinah finally half-whispered her request, face as deep a shade of red as Helena had ever witnessed on her, the brunette conscientiously struggled to keep her expression neutral, her response free of sarcasm. After all, Helena wasn't totally unfamiliar with the concept of embarrassment.
"Sure, D. Not a problem. It could even be kind of fun to -- "
Catching a glimpse of something down the block, the older woman shoved the shopping bags she was carrying at a surprised Dinah and started towards a nearby alley, growling, "Hold on a minute, Kid." After a half dozen steps, she pivoted mid-stride, fished in her pocket, and removed the croissant, which she thrust at the teen.
Didn't want that getting crushed; she'd be picking crumbs out of her coat forever.
"And hold this, too."
Yellow eyes pinned the girl.
Her walk slow, almost sultry, the dark-haired crime fighter soundlessly approached the four young punks who were circling a thirty-something woman in the alley.
"Heya, fellas," Helena purred, tapping the nearest on the shoulder. "I hope that you're only showing this fine citizen some of the latest dance moves, cuz if you were thinking of trying anything else, I'm really gonna be upset."
As the four turned and moved towards her, the dark woman showed some teeth in a not altogether pleasant smile.
"So, what was it? Square dance? Hokey pokey?"
With that, the Huntress put her right foot out, swiftly knee-capping one of the unsuspecting would-be miscreants. At the same moment, she put both hands in, lashing out and neatly breaking the noses of two more. Deciding that those three were occupied with their various owies for a moment, she focused her attention on the last.
Whistling a few bars between her teeth, she decided that the wet spot which had just appeared on the fourth punk's trouser front made a promising target...
"And, that's what it's all about, guys," she smirked.
The young heroine turned to the almost-victim, quickly checking for signs of injury, even as she scooped up a fallen purse and extended it towards the woman. Noting the fear still present in the woman's eyes, Helena kept her movements slow, her voice soft.
"Are you okay? They didn't hurt you, did they?"
Wide brown eyes stared unblinkingly before the woman grabbed the handbag, then recoiled, gasping, "I'm... I'm fine. How did you...? Your eyes...! That's not humanly possible..."
Wha...? Of all the miserable, ungrateful...
The young vigilante swallowed any number of less-than-heroic responses.
Hell, even the Lone Ranger probably had bad days now and then.
Helena turned back to the mouth of the alley, where Dinah was waiting, clutching an ungainly number of shopping bags in one hand and gingerly holding the brunette's croissant in the other. She relieved the teen of a few bags and reached for her pastry.
"Gimme that, Tonto."
Tucking the sweet back into her pocket, she glanced back, eyes still feral, smile dangerous.
"Yeah, maybe so, Lady. Somehow, though, I never seem to have a problem holding my own at the dance."
Helena certainly danced beautifully.
Of course, given the younger woman's genetic background, her natural grace and athleticism, her exotic beauty, not to mention the years of dance lessons which Selina Kyle had insisted on for her daughter, Barbara had never entertained any doubts to the contrary.
The redhead only wished that she could be the one dancing like that.
The addendum that followed this wistful thought surprised the redhead, but she didn't bother to deny the truth of it. The events of the night before would not allow her to be dishonest with herself.
Barbara wished that she could be dancing like that... with Helena. The one feeling those slim hands pulling her back into the young woman's arms, her back against Helena's chest, her hands teasing the outside of the brunette's thighs as their hips ground together. The one swaying within the slender arms, shivering to the feel of Helena's hands dancing up and down her sides. The one turning her head to brush a cheek against the other woman's as Helena rested her chin lightly on her shoulder. The one spinning in the brunette's arms to press herself tightly to the other woman's chest, twining her arms around Helena's neck.
Feeling the heat, the ache, building in her chest, Barbara Gordon ruthlessly tamped down on those thoughts.
She'd had her... dancing shoes retired for her a long time ago.
The older woman snorted softly.
'Face it, Gordon. Even when you could -- even before, you never danced like that.'
Emerald eyes surreptitiously drank in the sight of Helena, clad in her standard workout gear -- running pants, tennis shoes, white tank top -- dancing closely, intimately, with Dinah. Both young women were still flushed and sweaty from their earlier workout, their clothing plastered to their bodies.
The low, throbbing bass of U2 filled the training room.
My hands are tied
My body bruised, she's got me with
Nothing to win and
Nothing left to lose
And you give yourself away
And you give yourself away...
As the song faded into its final chorus, Barbara clenched her jaw, blinking back tears. She hoped that any moisture on her face would be mistaken for the effects of her own workout.
The redhead couldn't deny it: the younger woman called to her on every level.
Nevertheless, Barbara recognized it as a siren's call: something which would lure both of them to the rocks, leaving them bruised and bleeding. Helena's distance, the estrangement, of several years ago had been painful enough without an actual romance behind it; the redhead knew that heartache was certain to pale in comparison to the fallout from... something else.
After all of the years she'd known the brunette, Barbara was well aware that the younger woman was, well, a huntress. Honestly, the woman felt that a relationship had outworn its welcome if she bumped into someone after one date. As for herself, Barbara smiled softly, after her own stilted and increasingly infrequent attempts at dating... Well, she was quite confidant that she certainly wasn't relationship material either. Especially the type of material that the vibrant young woman deserved.
And yet, she still continued to be caught up in the dark woman's allure, her own need for the woman, regardless of the consequences. She'd allowed herself to slip last night -- even now, the redhead shivered at the memory of the other woman's low growl, the feel of gentle fingers whispering on her skin -- and had only narrowly avoided an encounter that would have been awkward at best.
Although Helena had responded with tremendous grace to her mentor's -- her former guardian, the redhead reminded herself sternly -- lapse, she'd clearly been shaken. Hours after the young woman had departed and Barbara was shutting down the Delphi, she randomly noticed the young woman's GPS signal was still online. The location -- the cemetery -- had spoken volumes.
That the young woman sometimes visited Selina's grave when she was upset was no secret to the older woman. That Barbara's own actions -- first the request to visit the morgue, then the later... lapse -- should have sent her there was inexcusable.
Not for the first time, the cyber genius flirted with the possibility of retaining someone to handle the delicate emotional areas in her life.
If only it were that easy.
The redhead dimpled her cheeks, frustrated with herself, and added ten more reps to her usual set of parallel dips.
Puffing slightly on the eighth repetition, she was honest enough with herself to acknowledge that she had not ended her observation of the two young women. Even as she fretted about Helena's emotional state and her role in it, what was she doing?
Well, frankly, she was ogling her former ward while the young woman taught her current ward some of the finer nuances of what could only be described as dirty dancing.
And, if that didn't put her somewhere squarely on the degenerate scale, nothing would.
Barbara debated adding another ten reps, then realized that her triceps probably wouldn't take it. Overdoing and landing on her ass with a crash was not on her list of things to do today.
Reconsidering her study of the two young women, she rationalized -- rolling her eyes at herself even as she did so -- that there were non-prurient reasons behind her observation. She was intensely interested in the interaction between the two women.
The brunette had never been renown for the depths of her patience with anyone -- well, except for Barbara. Yet, here she was, putting herself out for the second time today with the teenager.
The two young women had breezed into the clock tower several hours before, burdened by an unbelievable number of shopping bags from, seemingly, every second hand store in New Gotham. As the teenager began to rummage through the bags, Helena had strolled over to the Delphi and casually handed Barbara a chocolate croissant -- one of the redhead's guilty pleasures -- muttering something about having an extra left over from lunch.
Well aware that, when the younger woman was around sweets, there was seldom "extra" of anything, the older woman offered a smile, just stopping herself from reaching out to squeeze the brunette's hand. Even as she pinched a bite off the treat -- after all, they really were best when fresh -- she'd inquired about the lengthy shopping excursion, nearly choking at the younger woman's response.
"Good. God. Barbara." A dramatic exhalation had followed this. "I think I may never shop again."
With a gleam in her eye, the dark woman had then leaned in conspiratorially and whispered, "But, all that searching really paid off; we came back with change from Dinah's budget", and dramatically plunked thirty-eight cents on the desk.
Helena's description of plans to invest the windfall in an internet muffin top IPO had been interrupted when Dinah had bounced over to shyly present her guardian with -- of all things -- a vintage Devo concert tee shirt. The teen's tentative invitation for her guardian to view some of their better finds had sent Helena fleeing to the couch -- a pained groan clearly audible -- to kill time in front of the big screen before their workout.
Barbara had spent much of the next hour patiently examining numerous items, drawing the teen out about the merits of various purchases. All the while, she'd fought the urge to hot rod to the couch and wrap the brunette in a giant hug.
Clearly, Helena's shopping expedition with the young blonde had gone far above and beyond the call of duty. Yet, for some reason, the brunette had accepted another call to duty from the teenager.
When the two younger women had cut short their sparring session and Helena had started programming the CD player, Barbara had quickly discerned the situation: something about a club, a party, and Dinah's insecurity with her dance skill. She'd continued her own workout, trying to seem casual in her observation of the dance lesson, puzzling over their interaction.
And, ogling, she remonstrated herself sternly.
Barbara tightened the cap on her water bottle, attempting unsuccessfully to resist tapping her fingers to the infectious beat of Cyndi Lauper's "She Bop". The brunette had just demonstrated the right amount of swerve to put into a grind, followed by a hip shake. The two younger women dissolved into laughter as Dinah attempted to replicate the move, before Helena demonstrated it again.
The redhead swallowed.
My, Helena certainly was flexible, wasn't she?
The older woman derailed that train of thought as Helena approached. Since Dinah was shutting down the CD player and gathering her gear, the redhead assumed that the lesson was over for the day. Although, Barbara smiled, Helena and Dinah both still had a distinct bounce in their steps.
Twinkling green eyes looked up to meet -- yellow?
The brunette's eyes only augmented when she was upset -- usually angry or in distress -- or when she experienced other... strong... emotions. Urges.
From dancing with Dinah?
Hoping that she'd masked her surprise, the redhead smiled.
"Well, that was... educational, Helena."
A smirk crossed gamine features, but instead of replying, the younger woman gestured to the mat on the floor.
"Ready to get horizontal, Red?"
Oh, of course, PT. How could that have slipped her mind? Could it be time for another well woman's exam? Perhaps she was getting a little senile, too... mature. She had read some promising research about Ginkgo...
Somehow, in both women's current condition, having Helena helping with her stretching just didn't seem prudent.
Barbara extended her water bottle, demurring, "Why don't you cool down a bit first?"
The younger woman guzzled the water, and the redhead became transfixed with a droplet moving down Helena's chin. Green eyes traced the liquid as it trailed down that long, tan neck, as it coursed down the brunette's upper chest, finally disappearing into the v-neck of her tank top.
Barbara licked her lips. For some reason, she was feeling quite thirsty.
She looked up and found eyes which were once-again blue regarding her evenly.
Battling a blush, the older woman was flooded with renewed anger at herself as she opted to brazen her way through it. She raised her arms for a lift.
"Let's get those hands of yours to work then, shall we?"
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